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Simone Biles has opened up about what happened to her during Tuesday’s gymnastics team finals and ultimately the reason she withdrew from both that competition and Thursday’s all-around, while also taking on critics who have claimed she quit.
On Thursday, the U.S. Olympian took to her Instagram to answer questions around what is known in the gymnastics community as the “twisties,” which sees athletes suddenly and inexplicably unable to complete spins — sometimes requisite for a maneuver. According to her Instagram story, the “petrifying” experience has happened to Biles before and can be caused by stress, though she’s not entirely sure.
“Literally can not tell up from down. It’s the craziest feeling ever not having an inch of control over your body,” she wrote. “What’s even scarier is that because I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have NO idea how I’m going to land. Or what I’m going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back …”
When it has happened to her in the past, it has typically lasted two or more weeks until she’s back to normal. She also said it can occur in any of the events — vault, bar, floor or beam. This time, she’s experiencing it across events. And despite that cutesy name, it can have dangerous consequences if an athlete can’t orient themselves in time to land.
“It only looks ‘safe’ because I’m on a soft surface,” Biles later said to an asker that described her “crashes” as “adorable.” “If I was on a competition surface it wouldn’t look adorable.”
In an interview with Olymipcs.com, Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez described it as an athlete’s rhythm being off “and your brain will like stutter step for half a second, and that’s enough to throw off the whole skill.” That experience is essentially what Biles says drove her decision to remove herself from both the team and individual competition.
After sharing videos of herself during an uneven bar routine from earlier that day, Biles highlighted what the twisties looked like for her, including a clip in which she lands flat on her back after dismounting. “For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit,” Biles wrote on the first of two clips. “My mind and body are simply not in sync … I don’t think you realize how dangerous this is on hard/competition surface. Nor do I have to explain why I put health first.”
“I didn’t have a bad performance and quit. I’ve had plenty of bad performances throughout my career and finished the competition. I simply got so lost my safety was at risk and so was the team medal,” she wrote. “Therefore the girls stepped up and killed the rest of the competition and won silver!!!”
Biles also reminded her critics that Tuesday’s event was a team final and one that all of her teammates were prepared for — with or without her. “Hence why we have four team members [because] ALLLLLLL of us can can compete in team meet. Not just me,” she said.
The Team USA gymnast later took time to answer why an alternate wasn’t put in for her in the team event. “Once you start prelims or qualifications they aren’t allowed to replace an athlete,” she explained. “Even if we were, I warmed up in the back gym ‘ok-ish …’ Also, our U.S. alternates were already back home.”
Biles can still compete in the individual event finals taking place Sunday as she qualified for all four, but the four-time gold medalist confirmed that she is still having trouble orienting herself while completing twists and is currently “going back to the basics” to practice routines in a gym in Japan that has soft surfaces and pits.
“Sometimes I can’t even fathom twisting,” Biles posted. “I seriously cannot comprehend how to twist.”
Since her withdrawals, Hollywood and other public figures have come out to support the young athlete. Fellow gold medalist Michael Phelps also shared his support, saying that Biles explanation of why she withdrew “broke my heart” and advocating for more people to support athletes and their mental health.
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